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With the rise of China, India, Africa and other countries around the world, the demand for food has risen rapidly. As a result, farming practices have had to become more efficient over the past few years. The 1800’s brought about the first use of chemical fertilizers to enhance yields, while farming became much more efficient with the introduction of tractors, and powered equipment in the 1900’s. The advances were so rapid that in 1970, one farmer was averaging a supply for 47.7 people, while by the year 1990, that number had risen to 100 people. Experts expect agricultural consumption to increase 70% by 2050, so massive improvements in the way we farm will be needed between now and then.
It is referred to as precision agriculture, everything from drones in agriculture to using the latest sensors and technology to optimize everything from water applied to plants, to the amount of fertilizer and space they are given while attaining the highest yields.
Drones are poised to transform agriculture in a big way, bring about further increases in efficiency and crop yield for farmers. Airplanes, helicopters, satellites, and tractors can have their work supplemented/replaced by the use of drones in Agriculture. The acquisition cost of drones, ease of use, low maintenance cost, and technology is above and beyond that of traditional technologies, giving drones a bright future in agriculture.
Crop spraying drones are having a massive impact on agriculture and the efficiency of farming. The DJI Agras MG-1 is the first mainstream crop spraying drone, with a cost of $7,999.99 USD. According to payscale, as of December 2017, the average hourly wage of a farmer in the United States is $12.35/Hour. For 30% the annual salary of a farmer, a farm can purchase a piece of equipment that can spray crops 40-60 times faster than spraying by hand.
The DJI Agras MG-1 can be programmed to cover a certain area of land through a tablet, or cell phone ensuring no areas are missed. Using sensor technology the DJI Agras MG-1 can also be used to spray crops on hills, or in areas that would be hard to reach for other types of equipment. The onboard microwave radar allows the DJI Agras MG-1 to scan the terrain below and maintain a consistent, centimeter accurate height above the terrain at all times. The DJI Agras MG-1 is able to 7-10 acres can be covered in under 1 hour, making the DJI Agras MG-1 an efficient option for improving the performance and speed of crop spraying.
For more information about using crop spraying drones for agriculture, check out our article here, or click here to see our list of crop spraying drones.
Using drones for aerial imaging in agriculture can be a cost-effective, and efficient way for farms to gather lots of information for a low cost.
Compared to using aircraft, drones for aerial imaging in agriculture have a much lower hourly operating cost, can fly much lower, and require less maintenance.
Operators are using drones to do everything from counting the number of Tequila plants in Mexico, or corn stalks in the United States to checking plant health, and water levels on farms around the world.
Using NVDI cameras, drones can scan entire fields of crops, and determine healthy and unhealthy crops. With this information, farmers only need to spend time and money treating troubled areas of their fields, rather than treating the whole crop. Over time farmers can also use this information to test different farming techniques in certain areas, and see how it is affecting the crops compared to the regular methods.
Fig 1: Cost of Drones vs Aircraft & Satellites in Agriculture
While drones have emerged as competitors to both airplane photography, and satellite imagery, they are not always the most cost-effective solution and need to be looked at on a case by case basis. For smaller farms, drones will be the most economical solution, while for larger farms satellite photography will be much more economical. Despite this, drones can offer more precise photography than satellites or airplanes, can be deployed instantly, and can create 3D images that satellites and airplanes cannot.
Fig 2: Quality of drone photography in agriculture vs airplanes and satellites
The difference in quality can be seen in the image of a vineyard above, with “c” and “d” being agriculture images captured from a drone, while ä” is from a satellite and “b”is from an airplane.
Fig 3: NVDI image analysis
NVDI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetation Index and is a form of analysis for vegetation, obtained by using an NVDI camera. NVDI quantifies vegetation by measuring the difference between red light (which vegetation absorbs) and near-infrared (which vegetation reflects) on a scale of -1 to +1. An NVDI value of +1 would be dense green vegetation (chlorophyll), since healthy plants reflect more near-infrared light than other plants. An NVDI of 0 would be an area with little chlorophyll, or an urban area. The image above breaks down a NVDI image, and looks at the areas with low NVDI values, and the possible causes.
Using a drone, an NVDI camera can be mounted and capture similar analysis of farms. The most common, and most economical NVDI camera for agriculture drones is the Parrot Sequoia, pictured above.
For more information about using aerial imaging drones for agriculture, check out our article here, or click here to see our list of aerial imaging drones for agriculture.
Using seeding drones for agriculture have allowed farms to attain a 75% uptake rate while decreasing planting costs 85%. These drones have a niche use, as traditional equipment is still more efficient at planting large quantities of seeds for crops such as corn, potatoes, and wheat. Where agriculture drones excel is spreading seeds in hard to reach areas for larger equipment, such as hillsides or on terrain that is hard to access.
For more information about using seeding drones for agriculture, check out our article here, or click here to see our list of seeding drones for agriculture.
Farmers can use drones to monitor their farms, and protect their animals and equipment from being stolen. Using drones such as the DJI Spark, DJI Mavic, and DJI Phantom 4, farmers now have a way to monitor and protect their livestock and equipment from the comfort of their home.